As an artist, I'm afraid of what is happening in India right now: Director Jeo Baby

Jeo Baby
Jeo Baby. Photo: Onmanorama

In discussing the prevailing trend of extensive film censorship in India, director Jeo Baby expressed concern. He highlighted the groundbreaking portrayal in his recent film 'Kaathal The Core,' featuring Malayalam superstar Mammootty as a homosexual man, which challenges stereotypical narratives about the gay community in popular cinema. The film's sensitive depiction, devoid of long-standing gay tropes that have reduced the community to humour, has garnered widespread appreciation.

Expressing apprehension about the current situation in India, Baby remarked, "But I'm afraid about what is happening in India right now. We are facing religious and political censoring. It is worrying not only for filmmakers but all artists," emphasizing the broader impact on creative freedom.

Baby, known as a self-proclaimed problem-maker, faced censorship challenges previously with his critically acclaimed film 'The Great Indian Kitchen' in January 2021. The film, starring Nimisha Sajayan, addressed societal constraints on women's freedom, making theatrical release impossible due to COVID-19 restrictions. Major OTT platforms initially hesitated due to the film's exploration of a socio-political issue related to menstruating women's entry into the Sabarimala temple. Eventually, the film was released on the Malayalam streaming platform Neestram.

Fortunately, similar to 'Kaathal,' 'The Great Indian Kitchen' resonated with audiences, leading mainstream OTT platforms to reconsider. Three months after its release, Amazon Prime acquired the rights to the film.

Baby, in an interview with PTI, emphasized the need for artists to stand firm for their creative freedom, expressing concern about instances where some yield to societal pressure, as seen in the recent withdrawal of the Tamil film 'Annapoorani' from an OTT platform due to religious sentiments.

Reflecting on challenges, Baby recalled being expelled from film school in 2007 for a short film, 'Secret Minds,' depicting homosexual people. Ironically, 17 years later, his full-length feature film 'Kaathal' on the same subject gained widespread acclaim, illustrating the evolving societal perspectives.

Commenting on the LGBTQ+ community portrayed in 'Kaathal,' Baby stated, "I know they are normal people," and he took the opportunity to showcase them as such. Despite criticisms, especially regarding Mammootty's casting, Baby believes that with growing acceptance, the LGBTQ+ community may one day lead normal lives in India.

While acknowledging societal pressures, Baby cautioned against rushing without substantial content, citing his two-year exploration of LGBTQ+ stories before 'Kaathal.'

Films like 'The Great Indian Kitchen' and 'Kaathal' hold societal mirrors, according to Baby, reflecting the current state of affairs. He stressed the importance of society evolving to eliminate the need for such films.

Despite concerns about creative freedom restrictions, Baby appreciated the exposure films receive in contemporary times. After 'Kaathal' released on OTT platforms, it garnered appreciation nationwide, allowing audiences to relate to characters like Mathew, Omana, or Thankan.
Baby encouraged artists to leverage technology to counter growing censorship, advocating for new screening or streaming platforms. Despite fears, Baby expressed hope in collective artist efforts, stating, "There's hope through art."
(With PTI inputs)

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